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by Jane Allen | March 10, 2009


Your mental game can make the difference between getting what you want - or not.

As reported in Newsweek ("Don't Think Twice - Or At All, for That Matter," by Jerry Adler, 6/2/03), a major difference between pro and amateur golfers is their ability to focus. Researchers hooked up pro and amateur golfers to an MRI machine, gave them a golf shot to imagine and monitored their brains while they imagined making the shot. The pros stayed focused. Their left brains - the sites of verbal reasoning, logic, analytical thinking and second thoughts - were less active after they pictured the scene and before they imagined actually hitting the ball. Once they sized up the shot and decided what to do, conscious thought wasn't necessary. Researcher John Milton of the University of Chicago characterized this as, "You put in a quarter and you get your shot."

But it wasn't the same for the amateurs. Their brains showed more areas of activity (including areas involved in emotions) in that brief time between planning the shot and the imaginary execution of it. Dr. Milton concluded, "[T]hey get overwhelmed by details, by the memories of all the shots they've missed in the past." Some of the subjects were even concerned about hitting the ball into the water, but the researchers hadn't said anything about a water hazard! They were creating their own obstacles.

How does this apply to what you want for yourself? If you're imagining your own obstacles or focusing solely on the negatives, try changing your thinking. When I suggest positive thinking to clients, sometimes the response is, "Ah, that's just a mind game. It's a waste of time." Yes. It's a mind game, and you have two choices: either you work it or it works you. If you're not convinced that positive thinking is a winner's game, then hold on to your pessimistic hat.

"Cindy" wanted to attend a family reunion. It was happening halfway across the country. She couldn't afford to buy a plane ticket. Since the dotcom bust, she has been struggling to keep her small business going. She just couldn't add more debt to a credit card or borrow the money. After a lot of "I'll-never-be-able-to"-thinking, she decided to try something else. She brainstormed ideas for getting the money and wrote them all down. Her ideas ranged from the ridiculous (like "Money will fall out of the sky into my hands") to the more possible ("I'll get a big contract, and the client will pay part of it in advance").

Two things changed after she made her list: (1) Right away, her mindset switched to "I'm going to make this happen!" (2) A week later, the ticket arrived. (It didn't fall from the sky; it was delivered.)

This may sound like some kind of fairy tale, but it isn't. It's a true story. After her thought-changing brainstorming session, Cindy was talking to a friend/colleague. In the "Hi, what's going on with you?" part of their conversation, she told him about the reunion and that she was determined to get there - somehow. Her friend (a frequent flyer) told her, "I have lots of miles. I'm going to use some to get you a ticket." Hours later, she had the ticket.

Cindy created something different for herself. She let go of doubt and stopped focusing on "I can't." She looked beyond the hazards and saw herself already on the putting green with an easy tap-in shot for a birdie.


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